Three years ago, during the first COVID lockdown, I swapped a couple of copies of Richard Cabut’s self-published novel Looking for a Kiss for a lathe-cut of Dark Jazz, my band Necessary Animals’ second LP. I gave one copy to my partner, Amanda, and read the second in a single sitting, finding myself in a whirl of dense colours, sounds and mercurial impressions that wrenched my brain open and tipped in an account of a day in 80s London spent tripping on acid. Some I understood, some (the more obscure literary references) eluded me. But I was spellbound.
The blurb on the dust jacket of the new hardback edition describes Looking for a Kiss as ‘the classic post punk novel’. To me it is as much post-Beat as post punk. Speed, sex, hallucinatory memories of childhood that read like a sequence from a David Lynch movie , visions of the future, more sex; fear and disillusionment, a UFO over Camden; more speed, booze, sex, self-loathing and a kind of tattered redemption (though not for everyone) all surge through the veins of this remarkable book. Cabut details a compellingly unglamorous account of life in London in the 1980s, a time when the Old Britain, exhausted by war and with its global influence beginning to fade with its crumbling empire, looked to a bright shiny future to reinvent itself. Having fucked over its colonies and ‘dependencies’ across the world in the names of greed and self-aggrandisement, it decided to turn on its own and do the same to them. We are living through the shitshow that this era sparked off now. If we had known would we have done anything differently? Did Robert and Marlene, the central protagonists of this day trip to psychosis stop to wonder what they were doing? In both cases, I doubt it. Quite what the post-war British political establishment thought it was doing, who knows. Youth thinks life comes with guarantees, that no matter how baffling it seems, and/or how disappointing compared to the hype, it’ll all work out in the end.
Sadly, for Marlene, it doesn’t. Happily for Robert things fare better – working for the NME (though here I’m unsure about the epithet ‘happily’, the NME sounding as it does like a toxic arena for the sneering arrogance of male chauvinism) and a visit to New York to hang out with legendary photojournalist Nat Finkelstein.
Happily also, for Robert/Richard and the rest of us, we have Looking For A Kiss, an anti-memoir that fearlessly rejects cosy self-mythologising or the fevered wank of self-congratulation in favour of a coruscating account of lives innocently skating the edge of madness in a scramble to experience life, no matter what the cost.
As all such stories must, it ends with Robert giving up the rattling handcart to oblivion for a more measured later-life journey – the alternative being the true Beat dénouement of an unglamorous death, or a life spent trying to piece that life back together, often with no happy result.
With so much writing mired now in self-righteous post-woke virtue signalling, Cabut’s searing honesty comes as a welcome relief. Stripping away artifice and pretence, his lucid prose roots you to the spot and refuses to let you look away. It is a fever dream you’ll awake from refreshed and emboldened to face the day.
Or here https://amzn.eu/d/ebg5KSf
Listen to Unkempt Magic – Richard’s spoken word collaboration with Necessary Animals on Bandcamp https://necessaryanimals.bandcamp.com/track/unkempt-magic